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Jan 17, 2011

Mikey Koffman – Queen of L.A. Fashion Week

Full of life and brimming with excitement Mikey Koffman is an amazing individual. This extremely successful businesswoman is incredibly well grounded. After attending my first L.A. Fashion Weekend I was so impressed I knew I had to interview her. The more research I did the more intrigued I became. There are no limits to what Mikey can accomplish. She started out as an apprentice at West Coast Choppers and then opened her own custom motorcycle shop. From there she launched her own clothing line, which led to a career in fashion (she was the in house Director of Marketing and Public Relations for Da Nang Clothing and Stitch’s Jeans). The ambitious Mikey produced fashion shows in Los Angeles, New York, and Paris and helped establish the official Los Angeles Fashion Week/Mercedes Benz Fashion Week at Smashbox Studios. Now she owns a successful event production and marketing company, The Gallery Los Angeles, which was responsible for L.A. Fashion Weekend and will now be the new face of Los Angeles Fashion Week. There are no limits to what Mikey can accomplish. What’s more impressive then her drive to succeed is her radiant personality. Despite her hardcore appearance she is very sweet and her energy and enthusiasm are contagious. Mikey is one of those people you’d be blessed to have as your friend and lucky to have as a boss.

You started out with your own motorcycle shop (Sin Cycles) and now you’re running a fashion business. How did that transition come about?

MK: It’s a pretty interesting transition – isn’t it?
It really is. 

MK: Basically, I used to build custom motorcycles, and I got into making clothes for my bike shop. I started traveling around to all the motorcycle shows across the U.S. and accidently fell into starting a clothing line. I started going to a lot of Tattoo conventions and showed at Magic in Las Vegas and our clothing line (Sinner) went international in the first year. It was completely accidental.

Due to the events on 9-11 our business got shutdown, so I started producing fashion shows in Downtown and at Smashbox studios and now we are the sole licensees and producers of L.A. Fashion Weekend, which is now going to be the official L.A. Fashion Week in Hollywood.

I thought you played a major role in L.A. Fashion Week when it first got off the ground.

MK: I helped start the original L.A. Fashion Week, which started about 10 years ago on the roof of The Standard in Downtown L.A. Then we moved to Smashbox studios in Culver City for 6 years.

It wasn’t easy for you growing up yet you are a successful business woman today. What do you attribute that success to?

MK: My tough childhood. (Laughs) I think anytime you grow up with adversity and you grow up in a tough neighborhood and you’re struggling…. I grew up completely poor in the projects and I was also the only white kid, which was really challenging. There was a lot of racism and financial struggles with my family. I think that drive and determination of wanting to get out of that place and never wanting to go back is what has driven me my whole life to want to succeed.

I can understand that and after all that you’ve been through you have this great attitude, which is amazing. I heard The Gallery Los Angeles is moving to a new location and changing its business model. Can you elaborate?

MK: As of January 3rd our new offices are at Sunset Gower studios where we host L.A. Fashion Week. It made a lot of sense for us to move here because we are right next door to KTLA, and I have a big broadcast partnership for L.A. Fashion Week with KTLA, as well as my own new permanent segment airing every Friday starting February 11th called “Fashion Fridays.” Every Friday I’ll be presenting a new fashion brand or fashion event – anything fashion related. It’s really exciting. That’s our new thing right now.

Yay! I’m so happy for you. I have to say, I love Sunset Gower. The people there are so nice. I’m glad to hear your office moved there. 

MK: I’ve worked with a lot of studios and this has definitely by far been the best place to be for us. They have a great staff and we have such a good time here and the people here are truly amazing.

I see you as the Fern Mallis of L.A. Fashion Week.

MK: (Laughs) You know Fern is not with IMG anymore?

Yeah, that is crazy. You played a big part in starting the Fashion Week movement here and now you are starting the Los Angeles Fashion Week Awards. Can you tell me a little more about that?

MK: First off we are doing a full week starting this March and in October, so anyone that shows with us on the runway will automatically be nominated for their category. We will be launching the first L.A. Fashion Week Award ceremony in November, which will be televised on KTLA.

That is so cool. It’s about time L.A. designers get some respect.

MK: You definitely have to come to our shows this season and to the awards.

I LOVE going to your shows. They are by far the best. And, this March L.A. Fashion Week is during my birthday, so it will be a great way to spend my birthday.

MK: O.K. We have to give you a shout out.

I really enjoyed the past L.A. Fashion Weekend shows at Sunset Gower. The interaction between the crowd and the models was great. The models were having fun on the catwalk, which added to the atmosphere. What do you think makes your events stand out over the others?

MK: I definitely think…one thing we really focus on, although the majority of our shows are industry only shows, what we focus on here in Los Angeles, which makes us very different, is consumer driven fashion. What you see on our runways are things you can actually turn around and go purchase in boutiques and department stores. We really use our runway shows as a selling tool for our buyers and our designers. It’s a really great way for them to interact. At the end of the day if our designers aren’t making dollars and using that show as a selling tool…because we always place Fashion Weekend during Market Week, when the big buyers are in town. So, if they are not using it as a selling tool to make money then we are doing something wrong. I think we’ve had a really great run, and we’ve created a platform for our runway shows that are affordable for our designers. It’s not like New York. You don’t have to spend $100,000 to have a runway show in L.A. As a matter of fact, we have nights that are multi-designer nights, and it’s very cost effective for our designers to be able to show on the runway. Then we have clients like Richie Sambora (White Trash Beautiful) who will come in and buy the entire night. I definitely feel like focusing on what consumers can actually purchase and creating a ton of media coverage for those products really helps the pockets of our designers and that is definitely what we are all about. New York, Milan, Paris…they definitely have some beautiful runway shows but they’re not ready-to-wear shows. Our shows are ready- to-wear and their shows are very inspiration driven focusing on what their brand is about and that feeling and emotion, but for us here in L.A. we are definitely focused on ready- to-wear.

I liked what you did last October with Christina Milian opening the show. That was really fun. 

MK: Christina’s been really great. We partnered up with her and launched her sunglass line C. Milian Eyewear and it was real exciting to have her perform last season. The girl just had a baby seven months prior to that and she looked amazing. I couldn’t even believe it.

She looked great. Aside from the Green Initiative Humanitarian Fashion Show, you also have a strong belief in giving back to the community. What other charities do you support?

MK: I’ve worked on the No H8 Campaign, which has been amazing. Every season we work with different charities. Susan G. Komen is a big charity that we’ve worked with and raised a lot of money for. My aunt almost died of breast cancer and every person in my family has had some form of cancer, so that is something that has been very close to me. We’ve done a lot of fund raising for cancer research organizations in addition to some local hospice organizations in the greater Los Angeles area. 

A friend of mine just recently passed away from cancer. It’s just a horrible disease

MK: It’s horrible. You would think that in this day in age with all our technology and all the money we have raised for research that we would be a lot further along. It’s very frustrating.

It is. I can’t believe that there is not a cure by now.

MK: Doesn’t it just make you wonder if there really is one and we just don’t know about it?

I agree. There has to be something out there and it’s being kept under wraps for whatever reason.

MK: Population control or something. It really astounds me that we can send people to the moon but we can’t cure something that we spent so much money and research on. It’s just crazy.

I’ve seen you in action and even when things were going wrong at the last minute you were grace under pressure. What challenges did you face with having to balance the filming of The Real L Word and running your business?

MK: (Laughs) I knew that was coming. It was definitely a challenge. Being a producer myself I didn’t want to be produced by someone else. I think the toughest part of the filming was that it was very one dimensional. They definitely tried to make me the workaholic, alcoholic storyline and that was very frustrating for me because there is so much more to what we do. When you watch the show you don’t see any of our fundraising aspects. They didn’t talk about how much money we made for the Green Youth Movement.  They didn’t talk about my work with the kids and the planting of a million trees in the city of Los Angeles and giving back. That was really hard for me. They showed the aspects of me hard at work screaming, yelling, and being a crazy person but there are obviously many dimensions to who I am. There are a lot of things we do—not just for the city of Los Angeles—there are a lot of great charities and associations that we work with. The show was definitely challenging, especially being portrayed as an alcoholic and I come from a sober family. Obviously, we’ve all drank before and gotten drunk but that was really tough for me. I felt like it wasn’t really good for me to be portrayed in that light. I have no problems with people seeing the truth, but it’s hard when they have an agenda for you and they try to make you be a one dimensional person.

Sadly, I think that is the case with reality shows. They want to create drama even when there is no drama.

MK: I definitely learned my lesson on that because I think I was a little too together for them. I felt like they really had to search for something to run with and that is exactly why I am not doing Season 2.

I don’t have Showtime but I wanted to see a few episodes before doing this interview so I watched them online, and I could definitely tell you were the most together of the bunch.

MK: (Laughs) I felt like I was the only one who was working. Did anybody else even have a job?

I thought the same thing. “Mikey is the only one with a job. What else do these girls do?”

MK: That was hard for me too because I really let them in to a place where they couldn’t get in with anybody else and I trusted them to portray me, honesty, in the best light and I didn’t feel like that happened.

Has business increased since the show aired?

MK: No, I wouldn’t say that it did. I definitely had the opportunity to meet a couple of people I probably would not have met had I not done the show, but in relation to the business aspect of it…there were so many other things that were going on. To be completely honest, my clients didn’t really need to see some of the graphic things that were shown on that show. I don’t know which episodes you saw but there were a lot of graphic sex scenes that probably didn’t need to be on that show. Had I known I was going to be merchandised with that stuff I would have opted not to do it because it’s not something that I would want my client’s to see. I can’t say it was the best business decision for me to do the show. Now my career is very serious. I’m focusing on doing a lot of news related stuff and a lot of stuff that is more serious than my sexuality because I’ve never identified with my sexuality. It’s a very small part of who I am. It was definitely a big learning lesson for me. I took a risk and there were some issues with the production and the filming that made it quite difficult for my clients. It’s not a mistake I’ll make again that’s for sure.

I loved your introduction on The Real L Word when you say, “I am Mikey, a Lesbian, and there should be many more of you out there.” 

MK: (Laughs) I love that you have a good sense of humor.

I thought it was great. You are proud of who you are. Do you see yourself as a role model for gay and straight females?

MK: I don’t know if I could really call myself a role model. I think of myself as this little punk kid. I guess coming from where I came from. I basically grew up on the streets, so looking back at where I came from to where I am at now I guess I would consider myself a role model. To show others not to let anyone hold you back or hold you down or tell you can’t do and be and have what you want. I think perseverance, regardless of what situations you’ve been in, really makes you who you are. If somebody grew up in the neighborhood I grew up in and thought that they couldn’t be what they wanted to be I guess I would consider myself a role model in that aspect.

I definitely think you are. You also seem to have a pretty good outlook on life. How do you stay positive during tough times? 

MK: That’s a good one. I think keeping my eye on the prize and on the goal. Things definitely get tough and tense in business aspects and personal aspects, but really knowing what I want the end picture to be and continuing to just focus on that is what keeps driving me. We are all our own worst enemies and I think being hard on ourselves and being our own critics pushes me to do better. Every season in work and even in my personal life I want to be the best person I can be and my mantra that I live by is I really try to treat people the way I want to be treated - whether it’s my clients and wanting to do a great job for them because I want someone to do a great job for me or my personal life treating people with respect because I want to be treated with respect. I want to be able to lay my head on my pillow every night and know I’ve done the best job as a human being I can do every day. I don’t want to have any regrets. I don’t want to look back and say, “Wow, I really screwed this up.” Trying to keep a clean slate as much as I can and still retain my personality, which is a little aggressive and hard at times. Trying to find that balance is always interesting because I think I’m a big badass, but really I’m a softie on the inside.

Where are some of your favorite places to hang out?

MK: Do I even go out? I feel like I am at work all the time. I love quiet spots because my work and my life are so hectic – in the office here and traveling a lot. I definitely like those nice quiet spots like going to a nice little dinner at Pace - somewhere hidden in the canyon. I’m not the type of person you’re going to find hanging out in a bar or at night clubs because I work so much. I love going to Pace for dinner. I love chilling in Malibu and hanging out and riding my motorcycle down to the coast by myself and being able to clear my head on the weekends. Mostly just getting lost in the canyons in spots where people wouldn’t expect for me to be in. I love going to the Self-Realization center in Malibu just to decompress and sit by the little lake there. It’s funny because I don’t think most people would expect that out of me, but those are definitely spots I like to visit a lot.

What would you like to be remembered for?

MK: If I was going to be remembered for anything I hope I’d be remembered for being an honest, loyal person and being a great friend. For the people that matter most in my life having them know that I always have their back and I would be there for anything. I think my loyalty and my hard work are two of my best qualities.

Be sure to catch Mikey on the Fashion Friday segment during the 9 a.m. morning news on KTLA starting February 11th. Kimberly McWatt, executive producer of special projects at KTLA, had this to say: “KTLA is thrilled to have Producer Extraordinaire Mikey Koffman as part of our new "Fashion Fridays". Mikey's passion, enthusiasm, and style leaps from behind the lens and we can't wait to feature her unique style and flair our new 9 a.m. segment. Mikey is a true talent and we know our viewers will tune in to "Fashion Fridays" for all of their haute couture cues and fashion secrets given from the very best.

Interview by Nikki Neil. Photos of Mikey in the "I am LA Fashion Week T-Shirt" courtesy of The Gallery L.A. (Kevin Warn). Photo of Mikey on the runway Nikki. Photo of Mikey No H8 courtesy of No H8.

14 comments:

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  2. Anonymous, you're an idiot. Mikey was awesome on the show, she was one of my favorites.

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